- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

America’s health-care system continues to make breakthroughs and offer the world’s highest level of care. Yet the management of our system begs for reform. Why is this?

Our health-care system favors health-care decisions made by the federal and state governments or by employers. It is time to focus on the patient. With the bureaucracy of government and employers running the health-care system in this country, the doctor-patient relationship, the cornerstone of quality medicine, has been lost.

The hidden costs of defensive medicine and delayed treatment due to a lack of access to care have been passed on to the American people for years. Anyone who has received a hospital bill or filled a prescription knows how eye-opening these costs can be.

These issues have contributed to major problems in medicine, including making health-care coverage more difficult for many citizens. It should come as no surprise that more than 45 million Americans go without health insurance for a period of time each year.

As a physician for more than 25 years, I’ve seen the remarkable benefit of allowing patients greater control in their health-care choices. When patients are empowered to take an active role in their health-care needs, positive results are readily seen. This is why patient-centered health care is so very important.

In the past, many companies provided generous health-care plans. Today’s world is different.

We need a health-care system that is adaptable enough for our mobile workforce. It should provide employees with the flexibility and choice needed to make unique and personal health-care decisions. The typical worker no longer stays with one company for a lifetime. Changing jobs three to five times during a career is the routine, not the exception. Our health-care system has not adapted for that change.

Today, nearly nine out of ten employers with less than 200 employees offer only one health-plan option. In reality, this leaves consumers with no option at all. People deserve control over these decisions; they deserve flexibility; they should be able to choose a health insurance plan that fits their needs.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are an important step in achieving a system of choice and flexibility. These accounts allow people to save money tax-free to pay their out-of-pocket health-care costs — giving them greater medical independence. Now, Congress is building on this success by introducing H.R. 5262, the Tax-Free Health Savings Act.

Rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all “solution” on the American people, this act empowers individuals to make their own health care choices. Flexible HSAs allow patients the choice and portability that should be rightly theirs.

Increasing HSA contribution limits, making premiums for HSA-compatibleinsurance tax-deductible and allowing early retirees to use HSA savings to pay for insurance-coverage premiums are just a few of the added benefits of this initiative.

Flexible HSAs, introduced by Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, provide the nimbleness needed to respond to a rapidly changing environment of medical treatments and breakthroughs. This legislation gives patients greater control over their health-care choices and provides them with direct ownership over their health care plans. These are essential keys to meeting individual needs. With these components, patients are able to save and spend on the medical care they deem appropriate and needed.

Patients should be the center of health care. Providing patients the power to choose their coverage is the way our system should work. The current system impedes this from happening. The health-care choices made by employers, the government or the insurance companies have proven to be too costly and overly burdensome. They leave the most important person — the patient — out of the decision-making loop.

Health-care should be responsive to patients. This empowerment has added benefits of declining medical bills and expanded opportunity for access to quality care.

HSAs provide us an initial blueprint of how to go about solving the problems in medicine. They restore the best interests of medical care to the doctor-patient relationship. Flexible HSAs draw on this success and provide patients with greater authority, more options and greater individual responsiveness. All of these are good things.

Rep. Tom Price. a Republican, represents the 6th District of Georgia. Prior to coming to Congress, he was in the private practice of orthopedic surgery for more than 20 years.

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